© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2001
In light of crash expert Dr. Barry Myers' contradiction of NASCAR's theory of how Dale Earnhardt died, the Times invited readers to share their thoughts on how NASCAR is handling the investigation and whether it will be candid about its findings.
In my opinion, NASCAR has not only failed to be candid with the public, it has been intentionally devious. Further, in tacitly, if not openly, supporting the understandable desire of Mrs. Earnhardt to keep the autopsy photos from being publicly exploited, NASCAR has now aided in a grave disservice to the people of Florida: the erosion of one of its quite exemplary Sunshine laws.
It is my understanding that NASCAR's representatives had access to the photos, if not the body, well before the Sentinel's request for access.
Had NASCAR been candid from the beginning, revealing all the information available to it, including the race car itself, it strikes me as at least possible that the photo issue would not have arisen.
Perhaps it would have anyway, but I don't remember autopsy photos being an issue when Neil Bonnett died in Florida.
I am sure you have considered it, but it bears repeating: What kind of howl would have gone up if football, hockey or even boxing had had the kind of carnage in recent years that NASCAR has experienced?
Compare the recent safety record of NASCAR with CART, IRL or Formula One, all open-wheel series which, one would think, should be more dangerous than NASCAR race cars, rather than less so.
Nor is it a defense that the drivers do not want to wear head and neck protection devices. What if they did not want to wear Nomex suits or use structural cages or five-point harnesses in their race cars? Would the NFL abide a player playing without a helmet?
Now we hear, without elaboration, on the day NASCAR's "broken seat belt" red herring is exposed as just that, that NASCAR is going to perform its own considered investigation, which will yield results sometime in August. What will they tell the guy whose head pops off his neck in June? "Bad timing, son?"
This is an outfit that raised itself by its bootstraps into prominence and its body has outgrown its head, like a petulant teenager. It has sacrificed safety in many ways, not merely in the area of head and neck restraints but reckless competition for the sake of the spectacle, and it just does not want to let go.
In other series, notably F1, criminal charges have been brought against sanctioning body officials for negligent homicide. I think NASCAR's behavior following the Earnhardt crash leads directly to speculation of criminal culpability.
Though I have been a NASCAR fan and have attended its races since the '60s, and though I have always wished some of these brilliant athletes would try their hand crossing over into F1 to see how they would fare among what are considered to be the world's best, I am suddenly deeply resentful at this sport's leadership.
As a result of its adolescent behavior, a seriously important law has been vacated and the legitimate press has been vilified.
This sport has as fans, I believe, an inordinate number of Neanderthals who make death threats to Sterling Marlin or Bill Simpson, and those people will never be persuaded that the sport has a dark side. (Indeed, they are part of it.) Nevertheless, I suspect that there may be other voices in the wilderness who, as do I, hope you continue to probe that dark side. Ultimately, the sport will be better for it.
-- Wm. C. Haldin Jr., Ocala
NASCAR is very slow to mandate safety rules. It is very reluctant to regulate something that cannot be measured with a ruler. It is very easy to put a tape measure on an auto part and determine that it is 1/8 or 1/2 inch off.
One only has to research auto racing back to the late 1940s to realize that safety has never been a No. 1 priority with any of the major sanctioning bodies.
-- Robert Burns, St. Petersburg
Leave NASCAR alone and let them do the job they said they will do. They've told us when to expect their findings and I believe them. If they wanted or needed public opinion on how they should proceed, that would be another story. For now, this is their dilemma and they have not flinched.
I admire what NASCAR has done and become with its own vision, and I have continued faith in its judgment and fairness.
-- J. Franco, Largo
I believe that NASCAR will do a thorough investigation regarding the tragedy of Dale Earnhardt. However, I do not believe that they will be candid about all their findings. The death of Dale Earnhardt saddened many fans around the world, including myself. I feel that because NASCAR, like any other business, is ultimately in the business of making money, they will not make themselves look bad in all of this.
-- David Roman, Clearwater
Yes, we have faith in NASCAR. However, when someone hits a wall at 150 mph you can expect tragic results. We do not believe they could realistically make a driver compartment to guarantee there would never be the loss of life if an accident occurred. We believe that part of the driver's adrenaline is that he knows there is a certain amount of risk and danger just participating in the sport.
-- Lou & Lois Herouart, Largo
I think NASCAR's strategy is simple. Any time an incident happens like the Earnhardt crash, they just stonewall until it blows over. I've never seen an organization that can brush aside local law enforcement the way they can, and even get a Sunshine law state's legislature to pass a law to reinforce the stonewall.
I wish Bill Simpson would file a suit against NASCAR so they would be forced to open up. If NASCAR spent half the effort on safety issues that they do on worrying whether a car's roof is one-millionth of an inch too high, we might still have three promising drivers and one legend with us.
-- Avery M. Bailey, Brooksville
I think an independent body should be formed to cover all racing in the USA. This body should be chosen by NASCAR, CART, IRL and the NHRA drivers. It should have safety engineers and medical experts so they can determine if an accident was caused by mechanical or driver error. NASCAR has proven they are out to cover up and protect their image rather than make racing as safe as possible, no matter what the cost or if it makes certain people upset by new rules or changes.
-- Bill Siebold, Gibsonton
With the death of everyone's hero, Dale Earnhardt, it is easy to wonder whether they are telling the truth and not possibly covering up what they don't want us to know. Gary Shelton had a great column (NASCAR silence paid for in trust, April 11). He made some very valid points.
So as a lover of NASCAR and of all NASCAR drivers, no, I don't think they are being honest about what really caused the death of Dale.
There have been far too many deaths recently in NASCAR, and far too many tears shed for us to be kept in the dark any longer. NASCAR will only do what's best for NASCAR and the millions of dollars coming into the sport, so if there is an obvious conflict of interest, why should we believe what they say?
-- Sharon Taylor, Spennymoor, England
I personally have my doubts as to whether or not NASCAR will conduct thorough safety investigations at any time. I have a feeling they are interested in selling tickets as well as TV time slots.
I have personally e-mailed NASCAR in the past about aggressive driving from certain drivers, such as Dale Earnhardt. He drove that way a lot and wasn't the only one. It takes no skill at all to come up behind a guy and spin him out. It does take skill to pass him successfully, however, and knowing precisely when to attempt that.
I asked NASCAR when are they going to crack down and penalize such driving tactics. I asked them if they are going to wait until someone gets killed because of such driving but alas I never got any reply from them at all.
-- Mike Lemons, Dunedin
NASCAR has gone from being a "fan friendly sport" to being a dictatorship: Do it our way or else.
I have asked the following questions since Kenny Irwin passed away. ... I'm still asking them.
If NASCAR were so safety oriented, then why don't they have their own safety team traveling from track to track like the other series? Why did they tell the police departments in both New Hampshire and Florida that they didn't want them involved in the investigation of the accidents nor did they want their help?
Why didn't NASCAR attend a soft wall test at Indianapolis Raceway Park? Representatives from all the top series were there as well top representatives from K and K Insurance, but not NASCAR.
Is this an organization seeking improvements in safety? Is this an organization seeking the truth?
-- Linda K. Maddox, Whiting, Ind.